Public Business. - Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill, 1935—Committee.

Section 1 agreed to.

Mr. Healy

Ba liom an leasrún so do chur ós comhair an Tighe:—

Section 2, sub-section (3). To insert before the sub-section two new sub-sections as follows:—

(3) The Board shall not, nor shall any authorised undertaker, lay any such lines above ground along or across any street or road or erect any posts, poles or other erections in any street or road situate within any county borough or urban district except with the consent of the local authority or body having the control of the streets within such county borough or urban district.

(4) Where any difference arises between the Board or an authorised undertaker and a local authority or body having the control of any street or road in consequence of the refusal of such local authority or body to consent to the laying of any such lines or to the erection of any such post, pole, or other erection, such difference may be settled on the application of the Board or authorised undertaker, made after due notice to the local authority or body having control of the street or road, by a district justice of the District Court in whose district such street or road is situate, who shall have power to overrule such refusal or to confirm it absolutely or subject to such terms and conditions as he shall think proper.

This amendment appears on the Order Paper in the name of Senator Mrs. Clarke and in my name. I was sorry that I had not an opportunity of getting into contact with Senator O'Neill, because he is a member of the Dublin Municipal Council, which discussed this question and approved of our moving this amendment. I should like his name to be also appended to the amendment but I was not in a position to get into contact with him. In this amendment we merely seek to ensure that the same power will be retained by local authorities as they possess under the Posts and Telegraph Acts. Dublin has, unquestionably, paid its price for this electricity undertaking. I do not know what the attitude of Dublin ratepayers who are members of the Seanad was when the Bill in connection with the electricity undertaking was passing through this House but, unquestionably, the Dublin electricity supply undertaking was confiscated. No compensation whatever was paid. At that time, the people had no representatives on the Municipal Council. The City Commissioners were then in control and, I think, no protest was raised. I am not aware that members of this House raised any protest, either. Senators are aware that unsightly poles have been erected in different parts of the city. This question was raised in the Dáil by Deputy Tom Kelly, who is also a member of the Dublin Municipal Council. I happened to be a member of a sub-committee which interviewed members of the Electricity Supply Board in connection with this whole matter. They consented to the cessation of the erection of these unsightly, tarred poles which are disfiguring the city. They are not going to put up any more of these. They have promised to put up, instead, some class of iron poles. Furthermore, where there are terraces, they will run the wires from those poles along the eaves of the houses. They agreed that after five years, the whole question should be reviewed. When the electricity scheme for Dublin was established by the Dublin Corporation, it was an underground service. Whilst we are not exactly asking that that system should again obtain, we are seeking in this amendment to impose some check on the disfigurement of the city—that the Electricity Supply Board should not get, so to speak, unbridled control of the city. The Telegraph Acts provide that the Department, before tearing up the streets, should have the consent of the local authority. In this amendment, we are asking that that should continue and that, if any dispute arises, it be referred to the district justice for his opinion.

I do not know whether the Minister for Industry and Commerce will accept the amendment or not. He, like us, has a duty to discharge to Dublin citizens. He is the senior public representative of South Dublin City. He is not, perhaps, senior in years and he is not, perhaps, senior in the public service but he is senior in public esteem because of the fact that, at the last Dáil Election, he got the highest number of votes of any candidate in South Dublin City. I do not know whether or not the Minister will be disposed to agree to this amendment. I hope he will. We, representing Dublin citizens, see the reasonableness of it. We are asking for no more authority than was given by the British Government in the Telegraph Acts.

This is probably a move in the right direction because it is not desirable that the Electricity Supply Board should have authority to do what they like in the way of putting up posts and wires in a county borough or in an urban district. However, I am not sure that the Senator's amendment is the amendment that is required. Sub-section (3) does what the Senator wants, but it strikes me that sub-section (4) will not carry out his intentions. The Senator is making the district justice an arbitrator in a dispute between a local body and the Electricity Supply Board. The district justice is to have the right of confirming the refusal of the local body to allow the posts and wires to be put up or he can say that they ought to be put up. The Senator is purporting to give jurisdiction to the judge of a court which has no jurisdiction in matters of this kind. I am not at all sure that the Senator succeeds in giving that jurisdiction. I suggest to the Senator that it would be far better to get some other arbitrator than the district justice. This is really a matter affecting local government and not industry or commerce. I suggest that any dispute between the local body and the Electricity Supply Board should be referred to an inspector of the Local Government Department, to be nominated by the Minister for Local Government. Jurisdiction will then be given, but I doubt very much if jurisdiction will be given under this amendment. I do not think that the district justice would be bound to do what this sub-section asks him to do.

Senator Healy and I put down this amendment at the request of Dublin Corporation. The Council feel that it is not right that the Electricity Supply Board should have absolute freedom as regards the erection of poles in the city. The Corporation is going to great trouble to create nice suburbs and they think that these suburbs are being disfigured, in many cases, by the erection of poles where they ought not to be erected. Poles have been put up in some cases in the front gardens of these nice, suburban houses, The Corporation would not act unreasonably in this matter. If the Board could find no other place for the erection of a pole than what would seem to the Corporation to be an unsuitable place, the Corporation would not object but they do think that the Board have been absolutely indifferent to appearances in connection with the erection of these poles. The question of expense is, to a large extent, the determining factor with the Electricity Supply Board. To save the cost of wiring, they erect poles in places which are unsuitable from the point of view of the locality. Their aim is to keep as close to the main as possible. I know a case where, when the owner of a landscape garden wanted an electricity supply, the only place the Board would consent to put the pole was in the centre of a beautiful lawn. When the owner objected to have the pole put there, the Board agreed to put it in a courtyard about 100 yards away. I think the Board should not have these powers; that they should be a little more reasonable, and have some little thought for the appearance of the city and the homes of the people.

I agree with the spirit of the amendment. There is no doubt that the activities of the Electricity Supply Board in recent years have certainly not added to the beauty of the City of Dublin. Before the boundaries were extended the Corporation supply was an underground system but, in some of the urban districts that have been taken into the city, there were overhead systems. It can, at least, be said that in the overhead systems in Rathmines and Pembroke the poles were less unsightly than the ones that have been erected in recent years. They consisted of heavy metal piping and were generally painted with aluminium, which took away some of the unsightliness. Since the Electricity Supply Act was passed the Board have gone into parts of the old city where there were no overhead wires and erected most unsightly poles. It is certainly very discreditable on the part of the Electricity Supply Board to have no consideration other than erecting these poles as cheaply as possible, and leaving the city with these ugly eyesores along the streets. In reply to what Senator Healy said about the position of Senators who live in Dublin, I may say that I supported this scheme as I was prepared to see Dublin making a contribution to a great national enterprise that was to do such untold good for the country as a whole. That is beside the question now. The suggestion made by Senator Brown would be better than the proposal in the second part of the amendment.

If we are going to have litigation, I am afraid you will not get very far. By the time the lawyers are done haggling the poles will have been erected. The suggestion of Senator Brown that the decision should be referred to the Minister for Local Government or to an engineer or inspector in this Department might be accepted by the Minister, or some other amendment which would carry into effect what is desired. Most people contend that there are serious complaints against the manner in which the Electricity Supply Board erect these poles and disfigure the city.

Mr. Healy

As to the question of referring the matter to the district justice, I suggested to the city law agent that it would be preferable if it were submitted to an arbitrator appointed by the Minister for Industry and Commerce or the Minister for Local Government. I am not by any means enamoured with legal proceedings, but the city law agent believes that what is proposed is the quickest method of dealing with the question. That is why I suggested the system that obtains under the Telegraph Acts. I am sorry the Minister was not here when I was moving the amendment. He is perfectly well aware of the price that Dublin paid for the electricity undertaking. I am justified in saying that were it not for the Pigeon House during the drought last summer the Shannon Scheme would have cut a very sorry figure. I appeal to the Minister to consider the matter very carefully.

I am in sympathy with the Senator who moved the amendment, but there is another objection to it. Where there is a difference the word "may" should be "shall." If you are going to have arbitration, and if you want to prevent expense and the delay of going to law, it should be compulsory arbitration. I suggest that if the Senator wants this amendment to work he should alter the wording before the Report Stage and change the word "may" into "shall." The Senator also referred to the arbitrator who will be appointed. In my opinion the district justice would not be bound to do this under the amendment.

Mr. Healy

Did the Senator suggest something about the law agent?

I do not think so.

Mr. Healy

The city law agent is an excellent official.

I have a certain measure of sympathy with the amendment, but a very small measure of sympathy, because the Electricity Supply Board has practically completed its networks. This matter is more involved than appears to the ordinary observer. To limit the powers of a very important body like the Electricity Supply Board, in carrying out a scheme and trying to establish its financial success as early as possible, is a responsibility that we should be slow to take. I have not heard many complaints of the manner in which the general public is dissatisfied with the Electricity Supply Board with respect to the erection of poles. It must be understood that there were supply authorities in existence before the Board came into operation. If the majority, if not all provincial undertakings had erected what has been described as ugly poles —although one would have wished for other kinds—I suppose the finances of local electricity undertakings could not allow any increased expenditure in that way, and, in the normal passage of time, the eyes of the citizens became accustomed to these poles just as they have become accustomed to the ordinary telegraph poles. If this amendment is passed, I can visualise a considerable amount of delay in developing areas that have not yet been developed by the Electricity Supply Board. I take it that the Dublin Corporation are necessarily concerned about this question. I suppose this question hinges upon beautifying the city and on town planning. I prefer to be guided by the Minister, who realises the responsibility attached to the whole undertaking of the Electricity Supply Board, to say what can be done to complete the assurance which was given by him that the engineers, who are citizens of this State, are not going to act in the manner outlined by the proposer of the amendment. They have no desire to see the beauties of the city in any way disfigured or tampered with. I am not going to support the amendment. I believe the Minister will find it difficult to bring in a suitable amendment to deal with that aspect of the situation. If any better form of amendment is brought forward on the Report Stage I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it.

I am afraid I must ask the Seanad not to accept this amendment. I am satisfied that if it were accepted and embodied in the Bill it would seriously retard the development of the Electricity Supply Board's business. Furthermore, the amendment is contrary to the trend of electricity legislation in all countries. It is true that in Great Britain electricity suppliers were required to get the consent of the local authorities before erecting poles on roads or streets, until the year 1919. In that year amending legislation was passed and electricity suppliers in that country were placed in the same position as the Electricity Supply Board is here now; that is, they are required to consult with the local authorities before breaking up roads or streets for the erection of poles. The Board are most emphatic in asserting that at all times they exercise the powers conferred upon them by the Act of 1927, for the erection of poles, with due regard to the amenities of the districts concerned and reasonable objections raised by local authorities or by property owners affected. The danger which would arise if this amendment were passed was fully expressed by Senator Farren. It is undoubtedly correct that the Dublin Corporation and local authorities generally would prefer to have electricity supply lines laid underground, and that the absence of poles would probably improve the appearance of many parts of the city and provincial towns. But it is well to recognise that if the Dublin Corporation had power to require and to insist on the Electricity Supply Board laying underground lines and extending them to the outlying suburbs a very large number of these areas could not be supplied with electricity at all. The additional cost necessitated by the provision of underground lines would have rendered various development schemes entirely uneconomic, and they would have to be abandoned, so that the advantages of an electricity supply would be denied to many people living in such areas. As the use of electricity develops, and as the load in any particular district becomes heavier, it is the intention of the Board to substitute existing overhead lines by new underground lines, but that can only be undertaken where it is clear that the business arising in the district concerned is sufficient to justify the additional expenditure. The example given by Senator Mrs. Clarke hardly arises in this direction. The manner in which the Board would erect the poles on the property of a person who is installing a national electricity supply is not affected by this amendment, which relates only to the erection of poles on roads or streets. And the local authority in that case, as in practically every case, has been able to get its wishes given effect to by the Electricity Supply Board in that connection. So far as the second sub-section of this amendment is concerned I think the district justice would be the most unsuitable person to arbitrate between the local authority and the Electricity Supply Board. But, apart altogether from that, I urge the rejection of the amendment because to my mind it is unnecessary, and would, if adopted, retard the development of the Electricity Supply Board's business, and would be contrary to the general trend of legislation in these matters. The Seanad need not have any fear that the Board is going to exercise its powers unfairly in these matters. They are pledged to have prior consultation with the local authority. They always have that prior consultation and are always anxious to comply with the wishes of the local authority. No case has been brought to my notice where they failed to comply with the wishes of the local authorities without good reason, such as the case where the local authority wanted the mains to be put underground which would involve an expenditure in the district altogether out of proportion to the revenue that would accrue. The existing system has worked well and I think there is no necessity to change it. I ask, therefore, that the amendment should not be inserted in the Bill.

Mr. Healy

We have done our business. We have brought the matter before the Seanad but as the Minister cannot see his way to accept the amendment or to give it any consideration at the moment there is nothing remaining for me to do except to ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question—"That the section stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Remaining Sections 3 and 4 were agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Ordered: That the Report Stage of the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill, 1935, be taken at the next sitting of the House.